written by Lauren Gussis, Jace Richdale & Scott Reynolds directed by Michael Lehmann
I'm naturally suspicious when an inordinate amount of writers are credited for an episode, despite knowing that technically every episode of a US drama is "broken" by the entire writing staff. In my opinion, it tends to mean a particular episode was difficult or problematic, requiring more people's script-level input than usual. "The Dark... Whatever" certainly felt like it had three hands in the mix, as there were aspects of this episode I really wasn't happy with, but also developments I thought were very interesting. Together, it resulted in a decent enough story that took a few wrong turns, but has ultimately made me anticipate what comes next...
My biggest gripe was the sudden and unexpected introduction of Hannah's (Yvonne Strahovski) father, Clint McKay (Jim Beaver), which just felt odd being thrown into the mix so close to the season finale. In a similar vein, the continuation of last week's search for a new villain—the Phantom Arsonist—also felt like something odd to be adding to the season. I like my seasons of television to have nuanced arcs, but season 7 of Dexter suddenly feels like the writers have run out of material and are scrambling to conjure some new ideas from what's left. The saving graces of both matters is that Clint and the Phantom were both ideas that pretty much resolved themselves, and therefore only really existed to provoke some changes in Dexter (Michael C. Hall).
As the title suggests, this episode was ultimately about Dexter confronting the fact his so-called Dark Passenger is an excuse for his behaviour that he's carried into adulthood. Hannah found the whole idea ridiculous and Dexter came to realise that it's just been easier to pin the blame on an existential "entity" within himself, rather than accept responsibility for his actions and kills. It was a fairly interesting aspect of Dexter's personality to tackle, although the show tends to come across as more than a little silly when it delves into pseudo-psychological territory. At least now we have a Dexter who wants to kill people, rather than a Dexter who thinks he's feeding some craving beyond his control. Will this result in a radically different character? I doubt it. It often feels like Dexter's writers tease audiences with radical changes, because they fill an hour, and don't follow through on promises very often. Remember when season 2 ended with Dexter promising to abandon Harry's Code? That went nowhere. Then again, I'm surprised Dexter's stopped collecting blood slide trophies this season, so maybe the writers have something in mind.
The best aspect of this episode in many ways was the Cold Case-y sub-plot with LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) and Matthews (Geoff Pierson) investigating the Bay Harbor Butcher. They arrived at the theory that Dexter's the real culprit in a genuinely plausible way, which was surprising to me. The owner of the Everglades log cabin Doakes was killed in had rented it to the gangsters responsible for killing Dexter's mother, and Matthews filled LaGuerta in on some Morgan family secrets about how Dex's mother was killed and the fact the Ice Truck Killer was his brother. I now can't imagine LaGuerta being put off the scent, so something's going to happen of major consequence. Dexter will either be exposed as a serial killer by the finale, and thus instigate a vastly different season 8, or Dex will have to kill his sister's boss and a family friend to protect himself. If next season's the last, maybe the riskier path will be taken, but I have a suspicion Dexter just going to kill out of necessity... which is exactly what he did with Hannah's contemptible father, to stop him blackmailing her for money to start a crayfish business.
Overall, although "The Dark... Whatever" was the worst episode of this season, it was still doing some interesting things. And even the least interesting stuff was at least resolving some weaknesses—like Quinn (Desmond Harrington) saving stripper girlfriend Nadia by shooting her boss and framing him as the wrongdoer. I'm not very impressed by how the writers are handling Hannah's storyline this year, but I guess the dollhouse was another nod that something in her childhood is to blame for her own dark leanings? This was even echoed in the Phantom's criminality having its origin in something from when he was a juvenile. I still have a funny feeling children are the big issue for Hannah in some way, and this will feed into the finale when Dexter's kids perhaps come home for good.
I just hope some of the groundwork in this episode bears fruit. Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) was secretly given information that will lead to Hannah's arrest for poisoning someone, so that is perhaps how she'll eventually be caught. But will she squeal about Dexter to the cops, or remain loyal to her new boyfriend? Can Dexter afford to take that chance? More importantly, how will Dexter wriggle out of the weight of evidence implicating him as the Bay Harbor Butcher? Is there a slim chance that Matthews will be sympathetic? I doubt it. Will Deb come to her brother's defence in a clever way when they start pointing the finger, perhaps with some type of alibi? And what about the Phantom? Dexter let him live to give his sister a conventional arrest, but the man surely has an anecdote about some psycho with a knife and plastic sheeting that will be of particular interest to LaGuerta if she gets wind of it.
A middling episode of a great season, but hopefully it was just positioning a few things before the remaining episodes knock all the balls into the pockets.